Author Topic: Part 40: Hasty Departure  (Read 9575 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Daen

  • Administrator
  • We Don't Care
  • *****
  • Posts: 525
  • Karma: +1/-0
Part 40: Hasty Departure
« on: March 10, 2023, 05:32:41 PM »
They kept up their façade for the next few minutes, before Vaal bid them goodnight and disconnected, and then Char let out a burst of fear. "Core preserve us! A trejun, here?"

"This is a big problem," Moss responded, leaking analytical problem-solving as he considered the variables. Moss had been just as shocked, Char could tell, but his startlement had faded faster.

"No kidding. He's obviously here to negotiate with the sandkin. If he can convince them to join Trejuna instead of the Union, your people could be facing an army from the south as well as the west!"

"I was thinking of a slightly more immediate problem, actually." Moss let out some anger. "Your interroot here is very similar to ours up in the Union. If the trejuns can tap into ours without being noticed, what's to say this guy didn't do the same here? I think he heard the whole conversation with your people back there. He knows I'm from the Union, and that I'll try to sway them against Trejuna."

Char was silent for a moment, processing that. It was bad news, certainly, but it could have been a lot worse. "At least there's only one. And he couldn't have any juns to send after us, not this deep into the Orja. The heat and dryness would kill them off pretty quickly." She paused. "Come to think of it, how did he even get down here without juns?"

"He must have flown in. The juns carried him here, dropped him off, and then flew away back to somewhere cooler. A bunch probably died getting him here."

"So he's stuck here? I doubt the juns would last long flying back here to pick him up again, much less getting him out of the desert."

"Looks that way," Moss agreed. "You have to admire his courage to come here like that. He had no way of knowing what your people might do to him."

"I'm more worried about what he'll do to them," Char responded harshly, as images of all the burnt groves up north flashed through her mind.

"That depends on what his orders are, I think. Maybe he was just sent to negotiate, but for all I know, he has standing orders concerning the two of us. You can bet he's already sent a message to his people, probably the moment he became aware of us."

Char was tempted to point out that they had no proof he really was aware of them, but let it pass for the moment. "How could he warn the other trejuns without using our interroot? Maybe he can tap into a local network, but we have no roots or lines to trejun territory."

"He must have sent a jun out with an enzyme message," Moss said slowly. "You're right that a large number of juns wouldn't survive out here, but a small group might. When I was little, one of my qars fell ill with a very contagious disease. My father instructed me to hide him away until the disease passed. I grew a sealed enclosure and ordered poor little Peace in there, to stay for more than a week. I provided everything for him until he recovered, and then I could let him out to rejoin the others. If this trejun has done the same, he could have kept some of his juns cool and watered enough to survive a trip back to his people. It's only a matter of time before they know we're here."

Char thought back over what little she knew about the juns. The meeting had been four hours ago. If Moss was right and their enemy had sent out his message then, a trejun attack could be as little as a day away! "We have to leave. Or you do, at least. They'll be after you. Maybe if our friend out there realizes you're gone, they'll chase after you and leave Sharpcrag alone."

"Agreed, but how? They took our cart, and even if we still had it, I'm in no shape to survive crossing the desert again so soon."

"You won't have to cross the whole thing," another presence responded, and both Char and Moss sent out bursts of shock.

It was Trem, who had spoken on their behalf earlier today. Feeling her sap freeze momentarily, Char struggled to regain her composure. "How in the Void did you do that??"

Trem let out some amusement, but gave them both a few moments to recover. "Don't get your roots in a knot. It's just the three of us here."

"She asked you a question," Moss responded, and his aura was lined with menace and threat. For a moment, Char felt flattered. They were both helpless here, but he still instinctively thought he could protect her. It was a stupid impulse, but a thoughtful one.

"Right. I apologize," Trem went on. "There's nothing magical about it. I just helped design the artificial roots you're using right now. It's easy to listen in on a conversation if you built the means by which they're conversing."

Char focused on the roots briefly, trying to hide her chagrin. Somehow, because her people were so open and blunt with each other, she'd forgotten that they could be sneaky as well. "If… we'd been bonded while you were listening in, would you have heard that, too?"

"Oh, no. Not at all. Even if I wanted to, and I'm not into that sort of stuff, I couldn't. The communication roots are the only access I have."

That was a relief. Being bonded with him was uncomfortable enough with an audience, but having someone feeling the same things she was would have been mortifying! Thankfully, Moss seemed to sense her discomfort, and he spoke up next. "So you heard everything we said?"

"I heard enough. And you're right. You should go immediately—both of you that is. I've already called for a cart. It can take you over to Hightop. It's a trip of less than a day—in an almost straight line. Even you should be fine, Moss."

His aura didn't change, but Char forgot all about that. "I can't just leave you here. I'm a sandkin, and my place is here, protecting my people!"

Trem put in an image of the thunderers lining the edge of the oasis. "We're hardly defenseless here. We've got enough firepower to put up a good fight."

"And how much experience have you had firing them? I've been loading and aiming thunderers since they were first built! You need me!"

Trem wasn't having any of it, though. "Maybe so, but we need you a lot more talking to the other sandkin. If Moss is right and the trejuns attack us, our lives are expendable. You two are the best bet we have to form an alliance between the sandkin and the Union. You're the least expendable people here!"

Char hated the idea of leaving these people, especially now that they had at least tacitly accepted her as one of them, but Trem's logic was rock-solid. They'd both lived in the Union, and now they'd both lived, if only briefly, among the sandkin. They were the most likely people to negotiate successfully, on both sides. Reluctantly, she sent out agreement.

"Good," Trem responded with relief. "I'll make sure the cart is loaded with water—we store it the same way you did, by the way. I'll also let our guest know, quietly, that his rivals are about to leave."

"No!" Moss put in, unexpectedly. When they both focused on him curiously, he quickly went on. "He might have another jun ready to fly out. If he finds out we're going, he'll warn his superiors, and they might hit us on the way to Hightop. When we don't have a mess of thunderers to protect ourselves."

He was keeping his emotions very carefully controlled right now, and Char couldn't help but feel suspicious about that. His reasoning might have been sound, but it wasn't complete. What other reason was he not telling them?

Trem paused, but then agreed with him. "All right. I'll wait a few hours after you leave before finding a way to let him know. Then even if he does send out a message, it'll arrive too late."

The cart trundled up to them and came to a stop, obviously being radio-controlled by Trem. She wasn't there herself, but two more Ashers from the oasis perimeter came in as well, and helped load them up onto it.

Fortunately, it looked like the artificial root could stretch that far. "Will you get in trouble for sending us away? Will the others punish you?" Char couldn't help but ask.

"Even if they do, it's worth it. I don't trust the Union at all, but at least they're not guilty of attempted genocide. If you can establish a peace with them, then I've done my job. What happens to me is unimportant."

"No it's not," Moss objected, as he was lifted up by two heavy-duty articulators. "But it is your choice. Thank you, Trem, for all your help. Even if you did scare me half out of my bark back there."

Trem hesitated. "I'm happy to help. Moss, do you mind being disconnected from us for a moment? I'd like a word in private with Char."

He seemed surprised, but assented quickly. Once he was gone, Trem focused on Char. "When you were first brought in, there was a small object in the bed of your cart that the Ashers found. On my request, they put it in this one. I figured it belonged to you."

She showed it to Char, and for the second time that evening, what was impossible was suddenly true. "I don't believe it!"

"I was surprised too. Don't worry, though. The Ashers know enough to keep quiet, and I won't tell either. What do you plan to do with it?"

The implications were both unexpected and staggering. "I have no idea. I'll have to think about it."

"Well, you have time," Trem pointed out. "A few weeks at least, before you have to make a decision. Whatever you do, good luck. With everything."

Char flooded the link with thanks and fond farewells also, right up until the connection ended and she was put in contact with Moss again. As they started their straight, smooth journey, the last sandkin she could see was their two Ashers peeling off and returning to their patrol route.
« Last Edit: December 24, 2023, 04:59:42 AM by Daen »